A journalist's account of the forces steering the fate of his sprawling Filipinx-American family reframes the immigrant experience. Tracing his family's history through the region's unique geopolitical roots in Spanish colonialism, American intervention, and Japanese occupation, Samaha fits their arc into the wider story of global migration as determined by chess moves among superpowers.
Concepcion puts us forcefully and unapologetically on the hook of U.S. imperial history and its role in shaping Filipino and American identity — and never lets us off ... Taking us far from the boorish anti-imperialist cursing of a schoolyard Caliban, Concepcion tells a sophisticated tale. Samaha, a journalist who now works as the inequality editor at BuzzFeed, combines meticulous research into the epic of Spanish, U.S. and other great powers’ colonization of the Philippines with the more intimate story of his mother’s family, the Concepcions, with whom he grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area ... At the bighearted center of Concepcion is Samaha’s desire 'to honor my elders who built the foundation I was born onto, and to offer an account of their journeys for the historical record.' Here he succeeds ably, putting a human face and history on a huge, but mostly faceless community largely left out of the Asian American canon and U.S. literature generally ... invites us into the family’s living room conversation in the industrial suburb of Vallejo. In the process, we become privy to the manner in which two separate but linked political phenomena — the colonial history of the Philippines and the resurgence of the radical right in the United States — act as a vise grip on the hearts and minds of our relatives who support extremists like Trump ... is at its best when it shares the lessons Filipinos have to teach those of us grappling with life in a kingdom of the north whose growing divisions between rich and poor, and politics of extremism, increasingly resemble those it fostered and still supports in the global south ... In places, Samaha’s passion for history on an epic scale overwhelms his more intimate family story, slowing his narrative and diluting its emotional heft. His book left me wanting more of the dramatic yet homey scenes featuring him and his mother, and more of the very physical but politically subtle storytelling that characterizes other recent narratives of Filipino American experience ... Samaha is to be admired for taking on the exceptionally difficult task of navigating the abyss of imperial history in order to make clear its invisible but destiny-altering pull on all of us. Concepcion does for readers what André did for me, teaching us to curse at empire but with the one-two punch of epic and intimate history.
... a sprawling and impressive work ... Starting with how Spanish colonialism knocked Samaha’s ancestors out of royalty, the book’s historical retellings span hundreds of years and ultimately result in a scathing indictment of America’s role in shaping the modern history of the Philippines ... Samaha, an investigative journalist, unearths a wealth of documentation that runs counter to the kinder, gentler version of American history we’re taught in school ... especially timely, reminding us of the promises America fails to keep.
If Concepcion were only about Samaha’s mother, it would already be wholly worthwhile. But she was one of eight children in the Concepcion family, whose ancestry Samaha traces in this sprawling and powerful book back to the sultanates that preceded the Spanish Empire’s arrival in the Philippines ... Piecing together historical records with family lore, Samaha offers striking recreations of his ancestors’ lives ... This is a resolutely intimate book, but Samaha always keeps an eye trained on the bigger picture, repeatedly bringing up the question of whether a country has functioning institutions — that crucial, if often unsung, scaffolding of stability that allows individuals to imagine a future for themselves (or, in its absence, spurs them to leave).